In 2016, as a result of the ever-growing network of Christian refugees coming into our care, 222 Ministries International launched a series of humanitarian projects reaching out to refugee families living in poverty in Turkey. ‘Operation Christmas Joy’ was one of these. Thanks to our generous supporters, we were able to host Christmas outreach events across Turkey during the Christmas period. The events had three aims:
- Bringing Christmas gifts of warm winter clothes and toys to refugee children who are living in poverty and would otherwise go without.
- Supporting the community by funding a simple Christmas party for children, bringing believers together to celebrate the birth of Christ.
- Caring for the body of Christ who are suffering, showing them the practical love of Christ and letting them know they are not forgotten.
‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith’
– Galations 6:9-10
Aim #one: The joy of Christmas gifts
A total of 1,151 gift bags were distributed at 18 events in 14 cities across Turkey. Of these, 745 children were Iraqi refugees from Assyrian, Chaldean or Armenian Christian backgrounds who have fled conflict and terror in Iraq. 406 were Iranian and Afghan children from Muslim background Christian families, who fled their homes due to their faith conversions.
The bitterly cold winters plummet as far as -25C across much of Turkey, and for the poorest of the poor, keeping warm is a real struggle. Each child was given a gift bag containing a warm jumper, hat, scarf and gloves to help fight against the cold and relieve some of the pressure from parents struggling to find the money to clothe their children. The gift bags also contained two or three age-appropriate toys and a small packet of simple sweets, blessing these precious children with a few little luxuries their parents cannot afford at Christmas.
At the end of the party the children could hardly wait to collect their own individual gift bag, eagerly waiting to see what was inside. When asked which gift they liked the most, the answer was always ‘kulle!’ which means ‘all of them!’
Aim #two: Strengthening the community
In addition to the children, there were 893 adults enjoying the parties. Although the Christian community of refugees is well connected in each city, for many this was the first time they had gathered together since they left their home countries. For some people, that was four years ago!
Their vulnerable situation in life makes many people very fearful, especially widows who have fled alone or with their children. Many of the women had lost their husbands through the conflict or through kidnapping, and without the covering of a male adult in the household, they live in fear and vulnerability.
Praise God that these events enabled people to come out of their homes to a safe place, bringing joy through songs, games and Christmas celebrations. Many of the parents were able to connect with each other, strengthening the community through friendship and emotional support for each other.
Aim #three: Caring for the body of Christ in need
The hundreds of families reached through these events were brought joy and practical help in circumstances no one should have to live through. Again and again parents and children were extending their thanks to 222 Ministries for all they had done, ‘...but more than the gifts and games, we are so thankful that you came’ they would say.
As the global body of Christ we are called to care for each others’ needs, especially the poor, the widows and the orphans. Thank you for your support in enabling us to reach our brothers and sisters who are suffering, strengthening them with hope and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Aftercare: Operation Warm Home
After the parties in the various cities, we visited some families in their homes. Each had stories to share of the struggles and pain they left behind in their country and their hopes for the future. Maral’s story is one of so many; kidnappings, murder, violence, people fleeing for their lives and the safety of their families, often not knowing where their loved ones are.
What hurts them most is that their children don’t have school education. Education is the future of these families and hope for the children to have a better life outside of poverty. Without that, these children are being further robbed by this conflict. Among the communities there are a number of experienced teachers who are willing to begin small schools and teach the children. Maral’s friend, Lena, has already taken on a small group of children to teach English, maths, science and art, but resources are limited and the need is great.
The biggest need is for primary schools. If resources are provided we could employ two teachers, rent suitable buildings, and supply teaching resources. There is a serious need and great opportunity in at least three cities.
Connecting with these communities and their church leaders enabled us to identify those who are in the most need of further support. This led us into the beginning of our Operation Warm Home project, continuing through the winter months to bring extra support to those unable to afford adequate heating through the winter. As with one Iranian family we met, a family of four were huddled around a coal-burning stove in a small damp room in the winter. The teenage daughter, without knowing any Turkish, managed to find a waitressing job and is the sole provider for the family. Her mother is diabetic and pregnant with twins. We were able to bless this family with financial help as well as connecting them to the community who can help them find more suitable accommodation.
There were also many disabled and sick who we were able to pray with and support them in their practical needs. Operation Warm Home continues until April 2017.
If you would like to donate towards this project, any of our other humanitarian projects, click here.